The Moments I’ll Never Forget

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I believe in miracles, I really do. Whenever my mind goes back to that night in Amsterdam in 2019, I can find no other explanation. Man, think about it: We’re in a Champions League semifinal, we’re 3–0 down to Ajax on aggregate with 45 minutes left….

… and then I score three goals in one half?

With my left foot??

And the winner comes after the final minute???

Come on, man. It’s a joke. It’s a bad movie script.

Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Dan Mullan/Getty Images

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the last goal. It’s got like 750,000 views on the Spurs account on YouTube, and 100,000 of them are probably mine.

You might have seen the interview I gave Esporte Interativo after the game. They played back Jorge Iggor’s commentary of my third goal on Brazilian TV, and I just broke down in tears. I still get emotional thinking about it. There was something about his words and his passion that just summed up how I was feeling. But what really made me cry was all these moments that flashed in front of my eyes. I could see the time I fell off my bike when I was five years old, and when I hurt my big toe playing football in the streets. I could even recall flying a kite from my neighbour’s roof and setting off fireworks in his mailbox. (Sorry!!)

I also remembered six dark months in Paris, when I put my future in the hands of God.

Now, in one game, my faith had been rewarded a thousand times over.

And that was when I realised that all of these moments had led me to this miracle in Amsterdam. So now I want to share some of them with you here — plus one more that happened to me shortly after. Each one has been part of God’s plan for me.

Take one of them away, and the whole story falls apart.

THE HIGH-COURT JUDGE

Courtesy of Lucas Moura
Courtesy of Lucas Moura

When I was a kid, my parents had a disagreement about my “professional” career. I put that in quotation marks because I had only just started out. My mum thought that my dad was too focused on football. So my dad took a deep breath, raised his voice and said something that I’ll never forget. It was like he took on the authority of a high-court judge.

He said, “I don’t think you realise that our kid has the talent to become a professional footballer.”

Really, he said that. No pressure, huh??

Later he came over to me. “Son, are you sure you want to go down this path?”

I said, “Dad, this is the only thing I know how to do.”

I was sure. People had always told me that I had something special. Also, I was on a mission to one day play for Brazil. I was a complete fanatic! I was five when Brazil played the ’98 World Cup final, and even though we lost 3–0 to France, I kept running around my neighbourhood with a flag around my head shouting “BRAZIL! BRAZIL!” By the time I was finished, the streets were cold and empty. Everyone else had gone home.

But it was hard, man. When I was 13 and joined the São Paulo academy, I cried for a week because I missed my parents so much. And when I was 17 and made my debut for the first team, away to Athletico Paranaense, I was so anxious. I had always been the shortest player on my teams, so I was worried about facing the big guys. From my vantage point they were like moving mountains. But as soon as I got onto the pitch, the fear went away.

After the game I made it official in my head like, Now I can say that I’m a professional football player. My dad was jumping all over the place.

After all those years, he had been proven right.

NEYMAR AND THE PRINCE

Raul Sifuentes/LatinContent/Getty Images
Raul Sifuentes/LatinContent/Getty Images

Hahaaa. Look at us. A head full of hair. And a trophy that meant a lot to me.

I had only made my debut for São Paulo five months before, and here I was playing at the South American U20 championship for Brazil, with Neymar. The atmosphere in that camp was sensational. And the talent? Man, it was unreal.

Neymar was already incredible. Some people compared us, which was a great honour for me. He’s an amazing guy with a massive heart. He’s one of the biggest stars in the world, but go to his house for dinner and he’ll treat you like a prince.

On the pitch, he has so much courage. He can screw up a dribble or miss a chance, but the next time he gets the ball he acts as if it never happened, you know? He’s not intimidated by his own mistakes. That’s a type of bravery I admire a lot.

THANK YOU, ROGÉRIO

Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images
Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images

When I signed for PSG, I was obsessed with winning a trophy … with São Paulo.

This started in summer 2012, when I was close to signing for Manchester United. Their rep came to my house to talk about their plans, and I was very tempted. But at the last minute, Leonardo called me and convinced me to join PSG. They had Ibra, and a lot of Brazilians, like Thiago Silva, Alex, Maxwell and Thiago Motta.

Also, I had been to Manchester, and it was freezing. So let’s just say that Paris, for a Brazilian, was more tempting.

But I wasn’t ready to leave São Paulo. No way, man. You have to understand how much that club means to me. Just talking about it gives me goose bumps. I pretty much grew up at the academy. I made friends there who I consider my brothers. I still stay up late to watch São Paulo play. It’s the club in my heart, the club of my life. I carry it with me everywhere I go.

But back then, I had never won a trophy for the first team.

So I told PSG that I would come in winter 2012. I wanted five more months to win a title. Sure, São Paulo would get money for me that they could invest, but how much do the fans care if the training ground is upgraded? What they really want is trophies, right?

Over the next few months I’d be walking around the training centre and look at these photos of former champions. I was willing to do anything to earn a spot on the wall. Seriously, I really did think, If I have to tear up my contract with PSG to win something here, I will.

When we played the final of the Copa Sudamericana in December that year, I knew it was my last chance. We were playing the second leg in front of 67,000 people at the Morumbi, and before the game I thought about all my memories from São Paulo, all the goals I had scored and all the friends I had made. I thanked God for every moment.

And, eventually, for the final itself, which was just a blessing. Man ... one goal, one assist and a 2–0 win. It was better than I could have ever imagined.

I have to say thank you to Rogério Ceni. The guy is the biggest hero in São Paulo history, and that trophy was his to lift. But who did he leave the honour to? Who did he hand the captain’s armband to?

The kid who was saying goodbye.

That, to me, is true greatness.

THE PEOPLE’S TROPHY

Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

What I remember best about the 2013 Confederations Cup is the political situation back home. It was a year before the World Cup and there were a lot of protests in the streets. Oh, and I also remember the way we sang the national anthem. The entire stadium, man! Even when the track stopped, people began singing the second part. The ref couldn’t even move things on, because how was he going to silence the entire Maracanã?

To beat Spain 3–0 in the final at that stadium was unforgettable. That title belongs to all the Brazilians who came to the games.

When you hear your people sing the anthem like that, how can you not win?

LEARNING FROM BECKHAM

John Berry/Getty Images
John Berry/Getty Images

Becks! Man, what a top guy. This picture is from his farewell game, which was really emotional. I’m so happy to tell my kids that I played with David Beckham.

I was shocked when I first met him and Ibra. These guys are superstars, and you kind of expect them to behave like that, you know? You think that perhaps they are a bit arrogant, and maybe they act as if they own the place. They could, because they’re so good. But then you realise that they’re just very hardworking and humble people.

Beckham was so shy. He barely said anything. He would arrive quietly, settle down and just work. No fuss. That made a big impression on me, especially since I was so young, because it taught me how to behave.

When even David Beckham stays humble like that, why shouldn’t you?

We became good friends. He’d joke with me about how much I slept on the team bus. I’d joke with him about how much he ate. He loved French bread, and rightly so. I still don’t know how he stays so slim.

THE ANGEL AND THE DEVIL

Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images
Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

My life changed completely in Paris, and I’m not talking about football.

Going there at 20 was a shock. The culture, the climate, the tactics, everything was different. I felt this huge pressure to deliver. Then injuries came and I started to miss Brazil. I began thinking, Was I even right to come here?

But then I was introduced to pastor Rafael. We began to talk about God.

I had had lots of chances to get closer to God in Brazil, but I had never really bothered. What changed in Paris was that people introduced me to Him in a new way. I began to study the Bible, and Rafael invited me to meetings at his home. Alex did, too. I learned so many things, and soon I changed my mind. I was converted.

Then I met a very special girl, Larissa, and in 2016 we got married. Rafael was the pastor.

My life has taken on much more meaning since then. It’s funny, because when I came to Paris it looked like I had everything — big club, money, fame — but I had this huge emptiness inside me and I missed my country badly. I think a lot of people feel like, Hey, I’ve got everything, so why am I not happy? The truth is, only God can fill that void.

I remember hearing the sermon about the man who builds his house on rock and the man who builds his house on sand. As soon as I understood that story, I let God’s voice guide my decisions. It’s like the cartoon with the angel on one side and the devil on the other. Both are trying to make you listen. If you’re close to God, you’re going to listen to the angel.

This is why Paris is still such a special city to me. I won a lot of things there, but getting to know God was worth more than all my titles combined.

ADIEU, PARIS

Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The last six months at PSG were the most difficult part of my career, no doubt. The previous season I had scored 19 goals, and then Neymar and Mbappé arrived. I thought I could play next to them, but I wasn’t even in the squad for matches. So I told God, “I’ll fight for six months. If nothing changes, I’ll leave.”

Luckily my first son, Miguel, was born in November that year. When you come home and lift your son up in your arms, it suddenly seems trivial how many games you’ve started on the bench.

When Spurs got in touch in January, I went to visit their training centre. London is another great city, and the Premier League is the best in the world. Once God opened that door for me, I didn’t think twice.

JUST KICK IT

Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Dan Mullan/Getty Images

For the quarterfinals draw in 2019, Julio Cesar was the one picking the balls out of the jar. When he chose Manchester City to play us, I texted him like, “Come on, man. Why did you have to do that?”

He was like, “Don’t worry, you’ll go through.”

Once we survived the City tie, I was convinced we’d make the final. But Ajax were the sensations of the tournament, and we lost 1–0 at home. After the game I went over to our fans and shouted, “Come on, believe! Believe!!”

Then we travel to Amsterdam and go 2–0 down at half-time … hahahaha!

Man … 3–0 on aggregate. We were done. Toast. But I don’t know why, I just kept believing it was possible. Pochettino told us, “One goal, guys. One goal and we’re back in the match.”

We were all over them in the second half. Then I somehow scored twice in five minutes. I was thinking, We’ll make it now!! There’s no other way!!!

But the minutes passed and the ball didn’t go in. They hit the post, Hugo made a huge save and the crowd wanted the game to be over. In the final seconds I just thought about staying near the box, because maybe the ball would drop for me. I don’t know how Dele saw me, but suddenly the ball was right in front of me, and man, I swear, I had one single thought. I’m going to kick it.

That was it!! I’m going to kick it. Doesn’t matter if I hit the grass or the defender’s foot, just kick the thing!!

The ball deflects off a defender and goes in.

I don’t even know what more to say….

For sure, you cannot think clearly in a moment like that. There is this explosion of emotions inside of you that you don’t know how to handle. I didn’t know how to celebrate. When the game was over, I just fell to the floor and cried. I thanked God. I felt this huge sense of gratitude, as if I had received an enormous gift. Everyone came over and hugged me. Inexplicable, man. Seriously, I don’t know how it happened. Ask Him.

When I got to the dressing room there were bottles flying in the air, water on the floor, teammates jumping around and smashing the table. Then I got on the team bus and called Larissa, who was pregnant with our second child, Pedrinho. She was in tears. I called my family in Brazil, too, and everyone was wearing Spurs shirts, crying and celebrating.

It was impossible to sleep that night. Impossible. My mind went back to those six months at PSG. Then an angel appeared next to me and said, “See? He had a plan all along.”

THE UGLY FINAL

TF-Images/Getty Images
TF-Images/Getty Images

I was told just before we left the hotel. To be benched for the Champions League final was like getting cold water poured down my neck. But I didn’t want to ruin our team spirit, so I stayed quiet. Also, I was sure I’d come on. I had just scored a hat trick, right?

Finals are hard, man. Often they end up being ugly. Liverpool had a great team, let’s not forget that. So the game was disappointing, but what can you do?

Football … right? Football.

When I bump into fans in the streets, they talk about the Ajax game, and then it’s always, “You should have started the final.” But at least I got to the final. Many players don’t even get to play in the Champions League. So I choose to be grateful. I still have my medal.

LUCKY ME

When I think about these moments, I realise how lucky I’ve been. Even when I didn’t win, I gave everything, and that has made the defeats much easier to accept. If I can get to the end of my career knowing that I did everything I could, I’ll be happy.

What’s next? My goal is to get back into the national team, because I’d love to play in the World Cup. Also, I really want to win a trophy with Spurs.

That will be the next moment, I hope.

But I realised long ago that these moments do not depend only on me. I’ll make sure to do my part, which is to pray, work hard and play as well as I can.

The rest, I believe, will be up to Him.

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